ON LIBRARIES: The Leader in You

If you saw the title and thought “Hilda’s writing about being a leader again” my response is – absolutely. I will likely never stop. I honestly believe every one of you is a leader.  You just may not be revealing it to yourself and others. It’s time to let your leader out for the sake of our students, teachers, and our profession. And just as you must continue to discover, practice, and improve your leadership skills, I must cheer you on, providing as much assistance as I can. I hope as this school year gets underway you challenge yourself to engage in one demonstration of your leadership.

The Vision of AASL speaks to what I have been saying for many years, “Every school librarian is a leader; every learner has a school librarian.”  The only way we are going to stop losing school librarians is by being valuable leaders in our school communities.  Those of you who are leaders have two tasks: become even more visible as leaders and help the school librarians in your district and state to become leaders.

A Google search yields scores of definitions of what a leader is, but the one I like best is from Vocabulary.com: “A leader is the one in the charge, the person who convinces other people to follow. A great leader inspires confidence in other people and moves them to action.”  You are leading when you work with your students and engage them.  You are being a great leader when they feel they can really do what at first seemed like an overwhelming task.

The same skills can apply in your dealings with others.  Joel Garfinkle, writing for the business world, identifies and explains 8 Traits of Great Leaders. Many of these you are using with your students. It’s why your lessons work.  The next step is to think of how you can use these traits in throughout your school and beyond.

  1. Great leaders have integrity – It’s why your students trust you. And your teachers do as well. They know you keep confidences. You also uphold the ALA Code of Ethics and the Library Bill of Rights.
  2. Great leaders have intelligence –It’s why you can help others. You know your stuff.  This intelligence is also social and emotional intelligence.  You have empathy. This is what, along with trust, helps you build relationships.  Don’t forget to show how you can help your administrator. What is his/her vision?  What do they want to accomplish? Use what you know to help them achieve it.
  3. Great leaders have high energy – It’s why you keep coming back. You can’t be a school librarian without it. Even on a fixed schedule, you can’t predict what demands will be made of you during the course of the day. Your high energy communicates to others your enthusiasm for what you are doing. Don’t forget to build in “me time” to avoid overwhelm and stress which will sap that energy.
  4. Great leaders bring stability – It’s why you can stay cool in a crisis. (You may choose to fall apart later.) This calm inspires confidence in you and your program. It is a reason for people to look to you for help when things get crazy. It’s why they will follow your lead.
  5. Great leaders have high standards – It’s why you have a Mission Statement. This works in addition to the ALA Code of Ethics and Library Bill of Rights. It represents what you see as your purpose and what your school library program is determined to deliver. Everything you do is related to that statement.
  6. Great leaders have a strong inner voice – It’s why you can stay focused. You trust your intuition and your gut to help direct you in your decisions. This is part of why you are calm in a crisis.  It is powered by your Mission, Vision, and Philosophy.  If you haven’t taken the time to create these, do so.  That inner voice will serve you well.
  7. Great leaders are confident in their decisions – It’s why you can get back on track. You may always feel very strong in this trait but trust your inner voice, standards, intelligence, and integrity. Allow yourself to make mistakes, recognizing you will grow from it. Your confidence, like your calm, contributes to having people follow you.
  8. Great leaders invest in their own growth – It’s why your program keeps getting better. I have always felt strongly about this. You are responsible for your professional development.  There are so many opportunities from webinars, Twitter chats, professional journals, and, of course, conferences.  (I am an unabashed conference junkie.) You must be a member, preferably an active one, in your state library association.  You should also join—and participate- in at least one national association.  Working at that level will bring out your leadership skills.

As the subtitle of my most recent book for ALA Editions, Leading for School Librarians says, — There Is No Other Option.  Take on making the AASL Vision a reality by performing as a leader.



ON LIBRARIES: Safety – In the Library and Leadership


Safe place2In your philosophy and in your vision or mission statement you undoubtedly have a phrase about the library being a safe, welcoming environment.  It’s intrinsic to how we view our role and relationship to students and teachers.  The words are important so we let others know we value that atmosphere, but what do we do to create it?

Safety is also a factor in strong leadership.  It’s one that few think of and yet has particular importance.  By becoming aware of both of these aspects of safety, you will be able to integrate them into how you work with others.

Safety in the Library

Certainly, many of you have worked hard to change the look of your facility.  High school libraries in many locations have banquettes or high tops to convey the message that the library is not just for school assignments.  The ability to move chairs and tables easily allows students to work comfortably in groups of various sizes.

The move to a Learning Commons is a further extension of the concept.  Increasingly libraries have changed to meet the new ways students –and teachers—discover, work, create, and share knowledge.  Today’s school library is a far cry from the heavy furniture and range of bookshelves that defined them almost to the end of the last century.resources2

But what about safety?  Historically, we know that kids who are bullied or feel friendless seek out the haven of the library.  They come during lunch periods and find a corner where no one is likely to spot them.  Even when they are with a class, they seem to be somewhat separate from their peers.

It may not be as obvious in the elementary grades, but you can spot them there as well.  In story time they sit at the end of a back row, feeling more secure by having minimal physical connection with the other students. They may not answer many questions directed to the group. During a research project they prefer to work alone if it’s possible.

With all that you do, it’s not always easy to be alert to these non-verbal signals, but these students need you.  It’s what you mean when you say you want to create a safe environment. At the elementary level be attuned to how their classmates react to them when they do answer a question. Look for body language as well as how they behave and interact with others to identify these students.

Learn their names. Quietly speak with them. Find out their interests and then look for books and other resources to meet them.  Follow up by discussing what they read or chose to do with those resources.  Sometimes these kids are homeless, are a minority that a significant percentage of the student body neglects, have a parent away in the military or in prison, or are dealing with traumatic home situations.  Yes, this is the job of the guidance counselors, but they, too, are overworked and don’t get to see these students in the context of their school day. You can connect with the guidance counselors to get advice and to work with them to help these kids.

lgbtAs you are aware, many of these students are LGBT.  Especially at the high school levels, does your collection have fiction and nonfiction books to help them realize they are not alone? That others have gone through what they are dealing with?  Are you aware of online resources that can help?   NOTE: In some communities it is a challenge for you to acquire books on the topic. While I strongly believe it is the role of librarians to have materials to meet the needs of all their population and am a strong supporter of intellectual freedom, I recognize the fear you might have about losing your job.

If your resources are limited, consider connecting with the public library and seeing if you can borrow materials from their collection.  Depending on your situation, you can have the student take the books home or read them in the library, returning them to you when they leave.  You may save a life.

By showing everyone your Mission and/or Vision is not just words you put up on the wall, but are core to the library program, you demonstrate your integrity as a leader.

Librarians need to do whatever it takes to make the library a safe, welcoming environment for all.

Safety in Leadership

Until very recently I had never recognized the role safety plays in leadership.  I now believe it is one we need to integrate into our relationship-building and observe how it plays out with other leaders in education, business, and the world at large.  It began with a YouTube video of a TED Talk.simon sinek

Simon Sinek gave a TED Talk entitled Why Good Leaders Make You Feel Safe directed primarily to business people.  He spoke about a Congressional Medal of Honor winner who was asked why he risked his life to save others.  Like many in the military he responded that they would do the same for him.

Sinek sees this as originating in cave days when our world held dangers from predatory animals and assorted other sources.  In essence we drew a circle of safety around those who lived with us and the multiple threats to our existence lay outside this circle.  Within this circle were people we could trust to have our backs and we would have theirs.

Advance forward to modern days.  While corporate America had many negatives from the beginning, at one time people felt secure that by working for a large company that they would have a job for life.  That has changed, accelerating when the economy hit a tailspin in 2008.  Layoffs abounded.  It became a dog-eat-dog world and you couldn’t trust your co-worker not to stab you in the back to protect his/her job at the cost of yours.

Sadly, education as a field has taken on some of these characteristics. Faculty feel threatened from outside and from within the education environment. Morale has suffered tremendously.

Show a new aspect of leadership by making your library a safe haven for your fellow teachers.  Do what you can to have their backs. Keep what they say confidential.  Be ready to provide resources that might help them in difficult situations.

I urge you to watch the full TED Talk and give some thought to the implications it has for your own leadership.  What will you do differently?  What new perspectives has it given you?



ON LIBRARIES – Standard Approach to Leadership

be calm and leadNo, this is not about a basic way to be a leader. I meet so many school librarians who feel being a leader is too difficult or too time-consuming or too—add you own reason (for more excuses see my blog October 15 Stories We Tell Ourselves).  This is about a very simple way to ease into leadership.  And you do need to find a path to leadership because, as I have been saying for some time – Leading isn’t an option—it’s a job requirement.

Standards have become an educational obsession.  Many librarians have proven their value by showing how they can help teachers in meeting the Common Core Standards, and the research results consistently show a high correlation between an active library program staffed by a certified school librarian and student performance on high stakes test. By doing so, these librarians have shown the value of their program, but you can use standards to do even more to showcase you as a leader.

And good news – there is a shortcut.short cut

AASL has a Crosswalk between the AASL Standards for the 21st-Century Learner and the Common Core Standards for English Language Arts, Reading Standards for Literacy in History/Social Studies, Reading Standards for Literacy in Science/Technical Subjects, Writing Standards for Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science & Technical Subjects, and Mathematics. In other words—the Common Core standards in all subject areas are matched to the AASL Standards for the 21st-Century Learner and you can either start with the Common Core standard and find the matching AASL one(s) or start with the AASL standards and get the related Common Core standards.

You can look at your lesson plan and see which AASL standard(s) you are addressing: Standard 1 – Inquire, think critically, and gain knowledge: Standard 2 – Draw conclusions, make informed decisions, apply knowledge to new situations, and create new knowledge; Standard 3 – Share knowledge and participate ethically and productively as members of our democratic society, and/or Standard 4 – Pursue personal and aesthetic growth.  When you click on that Standard you find a two column table.  The first column lists the indicators for each of the four strands. The second column give the applicable Common Core standard that matches.

crosswalkSince I am more familiar the AASL Standards than with the specifics of Common Core, this is the way I would begin.  I know what AASL Standards I want students to get as the result of a learning opportunity, so I check for the Common Core standard that includes the grade level I am dealing with.

However, if you want to really focus on Common Core, go in that direction. Select the appropriate standard area and click on the grade level.  Don’t be alarmed by the many standards for which there is no corresponding AASL Standard.  Just keep scrolling down.  The empty cells reflect areas not part of the library program. You are not reproducing what happens in the classroom.  Your unique role is in providing those components of Common Core which are central to the library program.

Now when you write your lesson plans, do a copy/paste of the matching Common Core and AASL Standards.  Not only does this show how you address the needs of students, it also highlights how our national standards are in alignments with Common Core.  Once you have done this a few times, make an appointment with your supervisor or principal and show how this crosswalk works.

If you have purchased the 12-copy packet of AASL Standards, give one to the administrator, if not, download them and do the same. Point out what is on the first two pages and then discuss the four strands which are explained on the last page.

How does this make you a leader?  It demonstrates you are an instructional partner to teachers. It also highlights your understanding of the importance of standards and how AASL has national presence in developing standards for 21st century learners. (Do stress the word learners as opposed to students – it focuses on the need to realize we are all learners.)

On a final note – Common Core is slowly moving out of the picture and AASL is in the process of revising the standards which are now eight-years old.  This is a fast-moving world and AASL seeks to stay on top of the changes.  As a leader in your building you must do the same.  Be on the lookout for whatever succeeds Common Core.  Something will.  Keep checking the AASL website so you are aware of the new standards when they are published.  Your students, teachers, and administrators need you to be prepared.  That’s how leaders behave.